Key Senate committee passes Ramsey judicial plan

On May 13, 2009, in News 2009, by Mark Norris

Bill sponsor says he is likely to call for constitutional convention

By Ken Whitehouse,
May 13, 2009

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a plan backed by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey that would create a new commission to recommend potential jurists to the governor.

The plan went through minor changes from the version that was submitted on Tuesday. Changes include limiting to 10 the number of attorney members of the 17-member Judicial Nominating Commission, making every aspect of the nominating process public, and preventing employers of lobbyists and lobbyists from serving on the nominating commission.

State Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) sponsored the legislation that is now making its way to the Senate Government Operations Committee. In presenting the bill to that committee, Norris said the support he heard in the judiciary committee has him planning to introduce an amendment to call for a constitutional convention specifically addressing how judges are selected in Tennessee.

Many members of the committee, including judiciary chair State Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), said that they feel that the current system of retention elections of judges is unconstitutional. That position has most notably been championed by Nashville attorney John Jay Hooker, who was present at the hearings.

State Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) said he feels that the entire argument is a “smoke screen” and noted that the courts have upheld Tennessee’s judicial appointment process.

Voting for the bill were Republican State Senators Diane Black, Dewayne Bunch, Mike Faulk, Doug Overbey, and Paul Stanley.

Voting against the bill were Republican Beavers, and Democrats Kyle and Beverly Marrero. Democratic State Sen. Doug Jackson declined to vote.

Tennessee Bar Association executive director Allan Ramsaur said that he was “glad to see the bill moving. It is something we need to address.”

If Norris’ call for a constitutional convention amendment is approved, Tennesseans could be on the ballot as soon as August 2010 running to be a delegate at a convention dealing only with judicial selection.

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